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What to expect from clearing

Clearing can be a confusing process - but there's loads you can do to prepare beforehand

Browse through the reports of students who got their places through clearing and it seems as if most of them only just survived to tell the tale. But is it as bad as all that? The papers report the mad dash and sprint for places but otherwise, the clearing process remains one big confusing mess. There are a few things that you should expect, however.

It’s time to step up

Despite the crippling Disney addiction and a childlike handling of language - you totes know what I mean bro - you’re practically adult. Clearing is a test of your new rank - one of a handful related to university which doesn’t involve alcohol - and it demands relying thoroughly on yourself.

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As Clearing didn’t exist until 1994, parents don’t have first-hand experience of it and won’t be able to simply ‘make things right’. If you results aren’t what you expected, you’ll likely feel shocked and a little helpless – a time one would typically turn to mum or dad. They may offer support but they won’t be able to complete the process for you - nor should they be expected to.

Questions, questions, questions

Thus far, your education has likely progressed in a straightforward, uneventful manner. Perhaps you had the excitement of an occasional expulsion, but that’s about as heady as things get. Consequently, attending university can be considered as an expected step – a ‘well, that’s just what happens next’ sort of move, barely a decision at all. It’s the habit of a generation.

However, disappointing A-level results can disrupt the passage between school and higher education and inspire previously unasked questions: is this the right course? Is university for me? What are my alternatives? How can I achieve my end-goal without this specific route? These questions are no bad thing – but try and answer as many as possible beforehand, or you'll risk feeling overwhelmed on the day.

Websites galore

What once seemed like an urban myth will now be proven true: Wikipedia can't answer everything. Successful clearing means finding the right alternative course or uni (or both!), which involves constant browsing and bookmarking. All good practice for the actual degree – but remember the universities' websites may not be updated in real time and the UCAS search may be incomplete. Research what you can early to ensure that your phone calls will be brief and purposeful.

Two words on phone calls

'Hold music'...

...lots and lots of it. Expect to learn the difference between music and muzak. For the call itself, prepare to listen and to either jot down the details of the call or record it. Some smartphones can, but if in doubt, call on loudspeaker and record using a laptop. There’s often a lot to take in which you’re liable to miss in your breathless rush. What you want to avoid is wondering if your university was offering Law with Accountancy or Accountancy with Law – detailed notes pay dividends.

Prepare to justify yourself

If you’re swerving away from original plans, someone is going to ask why. Know your reasons.

No, your exams weren’t everything

There’s little point being mawkish but if you’re reconsidering your university path, you’ll suddenly realise the A-levels weren’t the biggest challenge of all time. When you’re figuring out what it is you really want to do, you’ll be thinking about the future and the rest of your life – hopefully you’ll realise that people are far more than the sum of their grades. Your teachers were lying; exams aren’t everything. Finding your place in things is.

If your results aren’t what you hoped they were, good luck. And remember - that shocked little jump your heart gave when you saw the results is the best cardio workout you’ve had in years.

David Ellis is the editor of student finance website studentmoneysaver.co.uk. He tweets here.